Thursday, June 07, 2007

Vanity Fair is at it Again

Vanity Fair, which has been accused in the past of not being quite so upfront about its digital manipulations of cover shoots, is at it again. This time it's for the July issue of the magazine. The cover shoot -- featuring 21 different celebrities and world leaders on 20 covers -- was again handled by Annie Leibovitz. The July issue -- a special Africa-themed issue -- was guest edited by U2 lead singer Bono. The covers were supposedly his idea.

The problem, however, is that not all of the celebrities photographed "together" on the covers were actually in the same place at the same time. The covers were digitally manipulated composites that make it look like they were photographed together.

For instance, while President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice actually were photographed together for one cover, President Bush and Bishop Desmond Tutu were on the cover of another version together, but actually were photographed separately in separate countries on separate days.

According to Photo District News:

The print magazine, in which all the cover photos are reproduced inside, offers clues that portraits are composites, but never says so directly. "We decided that 20 different covers had a nice ring to it. That meant 20 individual photo shoots," Graydon Carter writes in his editor's letter.

Now, it's no mean feat to photograph all these people in separate locations and to do all the post-production digital work on deadline. That's not the problem. The problem is that Vanity Fair once again failed to disclose that the photographs were composites -- or photo illustrations as these things are called these days.

In fact, Ms. Leibovitz worked pretty hard to get the shots, as evidenced by her itinerary, which was published on the magazine's web site:

Annie Leibovitz's globe-trotting, record-breaking cover-shoot time line:

March 1, 2007: Bono and [Graydon] Carter [Vanity Fair's editor] finalize cover plans in Manhattan.

March 19: And she's off! New York to Winston-Salem, North Carolina (470 miles).

March 20: Shoots MAYA ANGELOU; Winston-Salem to Greenville, South Carolina (150 miles); shoots GEORGE CLOONEY; Greenville to New York (615 miles).

March 23: Shoots JAY-Z.

March 25: New York to London (3,440 miles).

March 26: Shoots QUEEN RANIA.

March 27: Takes well-deserved break from Africa Issue shoot; shoots Queen Elizabeth instead.

March 28: London to Dublin (280 miles).

March 29: Shoots BONO on day of his knighting; Dublin to Chicago (3,660 miles); Chicago to Seattle (1,710 miles).

March 30: Shoots BILL and MELINDA GATES; Seattle to New York (2,410 miles).

April 4–7: Shoots Bruce Willis for June 2007 cover story in Mojave Desert and on Turks and Caicos: New York to Los Angeles (2,470 miles); Los Angeles to Turks and Caicos (2,980 miles).

April 8: Turks and Caicos to New York (1,330 miles).

April 10: Shoots IMAN and ALICIA KEYS; New York to Los Angeles (2,470 miles). Shoots DJIMON HOUNSOU; Los Angeles to Phoenix (370 miles).

April 11: Shoots MUHAMMAD ALI.

April 12: Phoenix to Omaha, Nebraska (1,020 miles); shoots WARREN BUFFETT; Omaha to Washington, D.C. (995 miles).

April 13: Shoots GEORGE W. BUSH and CONDOLEEZZA RICE; Washington to New York (230 miles).

April 16–17: Editing photos.

April 18: New York to Chicago (740 miles); shoots OPRAH WINFREY; Chicago to Washington (575 miles).

April 19: Shoots BARACK OBAMA; Washington to New York (230 miles).

April 20: Shoots CHRIS ROCK.

April 25: New York to Los Angeles (2,470 miles); shoots BRAD PITT and DON CHEADLE; Los Angeles to New York (2,470 miles).

April 26: New York to Seoul, South Korea (6,870 miles).

April 27: Seoul to Osaka, Japan (520 miles).

April 28: Shoots ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU in Kobe, Japan.

April 29: Japan to London (5,920 miles).

April 30: Shoots 20th and final cover, MADONNA, in London. London to New York (3,440 miles).

Total mileage: 47,835 miles, almost two times the circumference of the earth.

The magazine alluded to the fact that the covers were composites, but never came right out and said it. This is a big no-no in journalism. Photographs are not supposed to lie. And if they do, the reading public should be made aware of that fact in plain, easy to find, language. But at least Vanity Fair is being consistent. It never usually makes it clear when it has manipulated its photos.